GeoCarta Has Moved

Mar 8, 2006

British Newspaper Bashes Ordinance Survey

Charles Arthur and Michael Cross, writers for the British newspaper The Guardian take Ordinance Survey (OS) to task. They say the mapping agency, "stifles innovation, enterprise and the creativity that should be the lifeblood of new business."

The author's argue:
Imagine you had bought this newspaper for a friend. Imagine you asked them to tell you what's in the TV listings - and they demanded cash before they would tell you. Outrageous? Certainly. Yet that is what a number of government agencies are doing with the data that we, as taxpayers, pay to have collected on our behalf. You have to pay to get a useful version of that data. Think of Ordnance Survey's (OS) mapping data: useful to any business that wanted to provide a service in the UK, yet out of reach of startup companies without deep pockets.

This situation prevails across a number of government agencies. Its effects are all bad. It stifles innovation, enterprise and the creativity that should be the lifeblood of new business. And that is why Guardian Technology today launches a campaign - Free Our Data. The aim is simple: to persuade the government to abandon copyright on essential national data, making it freely available to anyone, while keeping the crucial task of collecting that data in the hands of taxpayer-funded agencies.

One government makes the data it collects available free to all: the United States. It is no accident that it is also the country that has seen the rise of multiple mapping services (such as Google Maps, Microsoft's MapPoint and Yahoo Maps) and other services - "mashups" - that mesh government-generated data with information created by the companies. The US takes the attitude that data collected using taxpayers' money should be provided to taxpayers free. And a detailed study shows that the UK's closed attitude to its data means we lose out on commercial opportunities, and even hold back scientific research in fields such as climate change.

The writers also mention a study by Peter Weiss, of the US National Weather Service. His paper, Borders in Cyberspace: Conflicting Public Sector Information Policies and their Economic Impact, compared open and closed economic models for public sector data. The late Mr. Weiss concluded that governments take in more tax money in the long run by giving away their data, saying, "Governments realise two kinds of financial gain when they drop charges: higher indirect tax revenue from higher sales of the products that incorporate the ... information; and higher income tax revenue and lower social welfare payments from net gains in employment."

It seems the English and American publics view the role of government somewhat differently. However, not all governments in the U.S. are as accommodating as the writers seem to think. See this post.

Complete Guardian article here.

See also:
Leica Launches RTK Network In Britain